TRENTON, NJ—On September 9, Gov. Chris Christie signed a new law that requires out-of-state police to notify New Jersey's government officials before conducting counter-terrorism operations within the state.
The bill, A2948, was passed by the state legislature after it was discovered that New York City police was conducting extensive surveillance on Muslim communities within New Jersey, including at Rutgers University.
The spy operation was exposed due to a routine housing inspection in 2009 at a luxury apartment complex in New Brunswick, as we reported in July 2012.
This new law requires out-of-state agencies to notify the local county prosecutors 24 hours before conducting any police operations. The prosecutors in turn must notify the state government.
Outside agencies can be sued in court and be temporarily or permanently blocked from operating in New Jersey if they fail to inform the state.
In 2011, the Associated Press disclosed that the NYPD had been leading an extensive domestic intelligence operation that extended into New Jersey, directing its operation to ethnic communities in several cities in the state.
The operation involved police photographing and observing mosques and Muslim business in New Jersey, as well as getting involved in muslim student organizations at colleges in the tri-state area.
The surveillance included monitoring such groups as the Muslim Students Association of Rutgers University in New Brunswick. It also included dozens of Muslim establishments in Newark and the Omar Mosque on Getty Avenue in Paterson.
The hundreds of "places of interest" catalogued in New York and New Jersey were revealed in police documents posted online to accompany a new book by Associated Press reporters Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman, who uncovered the New York Police Department’s secret surveillance unit.
Known as the "Demographics Unit," they specifically targeted and gathered intelligence on muslims including "Black American muslims." The unit obviously had some type of spy headquarters at the Plaza Square Apartments in New Brunswick.
It was not until a superintendent of the New Brunswick building called local police to report an apartment containing NYPD radios and terrorist literature. The alleged terrorist cell turned out to be a safe house for undercover NYPD officers coordinating the surveillance.
Civil rights advocates spoke out against the targeting of muslims because of their religion and the questionable expansion of NYPD's jurisdiction. The report was presented as evidence in a federal lawsuit filed last year by Muslim Advocates, a group that consists of Muslim residents, clergy, and business owners.
"As a former U.S. Attorney appointed in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, I strongly believe we need to do everything in our power to prevent terrorist attacks on our country and keep our people safe," Christie said in a statement. "I also believe we must protect and maintain civil liberties, especially those of the citizens in New Jersey’s Muslim community."
The bill passed the NJ Senate by a vote of 39-0 and the NJ Assembly by a 76-3 margin. Upendra Chivukula, an Assmeblyman representing New Brunswick was a co-sponsor of the bill.
In 2012, as the story unfolded, City Council members dodged questions about how much city officials knew and why they didn't speak up against it.
Then the Vice President of the City Council, Rebecca Escobar said on April 18: "I do agree that some surveillance has to be done… But I do know also that it has to be done in a systematic way and in a way that it doesn't infringe on somebody else's civil liberties."
"Did they provide the whole information for somebody to make an informed decision? Who knows? That's part of the police procedure and whatever they have. I don't think I need to know because [the police] know better."
Now, with a state law to prevent such spying on the books, city officials took a slightly different tone.
"What happened, I don't agree with it. They should let us know… and inform the police department that they have an ongoing investigation, out of courtesy at least, Escobar said after being asked for the second time at the November 6 City Council meeting.
"Personally I think it's good [that the law was signed]."
At first, when asked in public on October 16, Escobar and the other council members were unaware of the state law's passage, more than a month after it had been signed by Christie.